Quiz opens in London in September 2003, where the Ingrams and their alleged co-conspirator meet for the first time at trial. It quickly segues back in time to 1997, when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was first being pitched and workshopped for the network. There are bumps along the way but, as most people are aware, the show takes off and becomes a smash hit in the UK and eventually the US.
At the same time, Diana Ingram, portrayed by Sian Clifford, and her brother, Adrian Pollock, played by Trystan Gravelle, are shown competing in a pub quiz. Her husband, Charles Ingram, who is played by Matthew Macfadyen, calls to interrupt with one of their daughters’ accomplishments on the piano and she is not fully able to enjoy it because she’s worried about the game. Their differing approaches to trivia games and competition is a juxtaposition that will be highlighted throughout the first episode.
When Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? airs, it is a near-instant hit, drawing in the UK viewing audience – including Adrian and the Ingrams. Adrian has debts to repay because of the dot-com bubble bursting and views the show as his opportunity to become debt-free. He knows enough trivia to earn himself a chance on the show three times, but he is never fast enough to earn himself a chance at the Hot Seat and a million pounds. With each successive attempt, he spirals deeper into an obsession with getting into the Hot Seat.
Adrian builds himself a homemade Fasted Fingers button machine in order to practice being the fastest contestant, but he also contacts a man who “helps people get on the show” after a tip from another contestant. The man introduces him to “The Syndicate,” a network of trivia-lovers who have worked out a complicated system to ultimately get them on the show. The man also mentions that should Adrian get on the show, they have a set of numbers that he can use to “Phone-A-Friend” in exchange for 25% of the winnings.
Through these helping hands, Adrian finally makes it into the hot seat on his fourth attempt on the show. The production staff takes note of how many times he has been “randomly” selected and wonders if something is going on to showcase the show with primarily white, middle-class contestants. After using his Phone-A-Friend to call his father, Adrian ultimately leaves the game show with a respectable £32,000.
But it’s not enough for him to pay off his debts and he dramatically encourages Diana to take the Fastest Fingers button and try to get on the show to win more money. She follows in his footsteps and earns the same amount of money as Adrian. Diana gives £14,000 to Adrian for his help in her getting on the show and to clear some of his debts, which her husband Charles disapproves of.
The siblings’ original plan of writing a book about the tips and tricks they learned to get onto the show falls apart when Adrian dramatically announces that he has to leave for a while due to his mounting debts. That’s when Diana comes up with a new plan: Charles, who has shown no aptitude or interest in trivia up until this point, will go on the show.
Quiz is a fascinating look at a scandal that played out on national television, in front of a live studio audience, and the show maintains that tension throughout – even while knowing the outcome of Charles’ run on the show. Quiz is well-acted, well-paced, and will become must-see tv for the next three weeks. The first episode is a fascinating look at how things might have spiraled out of control faster than anyone could have predicted.